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It is a warm October day in Tempe when students take their seats in Honors Hall Room 242 on the Barrett Honors College Tempe campus at Arizona State University. The sun streams through the windows onto students dressed in t-shirts and shorts.
Using a laptop and Zoom cloud conferencing services, Honors Faculty Fellow Don Fette connects to a classroom at University College Groningen (UCG) in the Netherlands and the video screen springs to life.
Students and their instructor sitting in a classroom with white walls, ceiling, tables, and chairs at UCG are on the screen looking at the Barrett students. Coats are draped across the backs of chairs while backpacks sit on the table and floor. Grey light outside the windows indicats a cool early fall.
“Good mornings” and “good afternoons” are exchanged while a Barrett student brings a PowerPoint presentation up on the screen.
It is 8 a.m. in Tempe and 4 p.m. in Groningen, located in the northeastern part of the Netherlands, bordered on the east by Germany and on the north and west by the North Sea.
The Global Classroom is in session, with students and their instructors, who are physically 5,407 miles apart, coming together for a class focusing on borders and international migration.
This is the second year of the Global Classroom, a partnership between Barrett and UCG. Last year’s class focused on climate change, with an emphasis on the problem of water in the desert in Arizona and the sea in the Netherlands, Fette said.
The Global Classroom is still somewhat of an experiment meant to test how students in different countries can come together across the miles to study issues of mutual interest in a one-unit course.
Students in the class engage in open conversations and research about topics surrounding immigration, refugees, human migration, borders, and policy. Much of the course work is student-driven.
According to Fette, he and his counterpart Prof. Menno Rol at UCG facilitate student discussions and invite experts into the class to talk about various topics, while Barrett and UCG students form groups to do research and present their findings in class.
This semester, three experts on border and immigration issues from both ASU and UCG spoke to the class and engaged in Q&A sessions with students.
“The Global Classroom allows another dimension of education to happen for students. The word education literally means “to lead out“ and I believe that having to work with students halfway across the world and to hear their perspectives and about their experiences allows them to be led out of their customary ways of being and thinking in the classroom and about the world and their place in it,” Fette said.
“Without the global classroom the students would not have the opportunity to meet and work with such a diverse group of students and in such an intimate manner.”
Fette said he was impressed by how well the students connect with each other. For example, a Barrett student sent a text to a UCG student to alert everyone that she would be late for class.
“The fact that our student sent a text across the ocean to a global classmate illustrated, to me at least, just how well the students connected with each other and formed a kind of ‘global community’,” he said.
The Global Classroom community truly is global, with students from all over Arizona and the United States at Barrett, as well as students from the Netherlands, Egypt, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Germany, Chechnya, and Vietnam at UCG.
“Our American students learn a lot about the diverse backgrounds of the students at Groningen. There are Dutch students of course at UCG, but a surprisingly large percentage of their students, in our class at least, are from all over Europe and elsewhere. It is quite amazing to have productive discussions with students who speak English as a second and sometimes even as a third language and who have traveled all over the world. The Groningen students are also quite interested in “American culture” and in the opinions and experiences of our students, many of whom are from Arizona or the surrounding states,” Fette said.
Menno, the UCG professor, said the technical aspects of the class sometimes presents challenges and learning opportunities.
“For such a video classroom students and speakers have to learn to look into the camera, not murmur their way with the students who are physically sitting close at their own table but speak up well and relate to others via a microphone. Also, the students in Groningen rarely come from the Netherlands originally; in the European side of the Global Classroom we have them from Egypt, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Germany, Chechnya, and Vietnam. Most of them speak three or more languages, while ASU people mostly only know English. But it appears ASU students are not well aware and find it difficult to imagine that people on the other side of the ocean often do not have English as their first language.”
“As a consequence, non-native speakers of English may for instance struggle with the typical accents spoken in America, if in combination with the drawback of a microphone attached to the wall. Hearing a foreign language well requires more favorable conditions than hearing one’s mother tongue,” he said.
Despite technical challenges, students praise their Global Classroom experience.
“My experience in the class has been excellent. I didn’t expect for the professors to let students have free reign in many of the conversations. It makes the class much more enjoyable to be able to have real conversations with students across the world. The Global Classroom approach opens your eyes to what is possible when it comes to developing international connections and channels of communication with individuals from everywhere,” said Mary McNamara, a senior in Barrett studying business and supply chain management.
“I would definitely recommend this class to other students. In all seriousness this class is highly innovative and interesting. It will capture your attention and your mind, and you will completely forget it is a course so much as a leadership opportunity. You get to shape the class and the conversation, and if you desire a high level of responsibility and autonomy as a student this is the class for you,” she added.
Maya Glaser, a Barrett sophomore studying business tourism, is preparing to study abroad at UCG next spring. She said the Global Classroom has given her a preview of what to expect when she gets to the Netherlands.
“The experience has been amazing. The morning grogginess slows us down on the American side sometimes, but we always get to discuss interesting and pressing global issues and we have the opportunity to see completely different perspectives,” she said.
Eva Dryden, a UCG student, said hearing diverse perspectives made the class especially interesting.
“During the lectures given by experts I have received an insight into different topics of migration such as the tight relation between water security and migration, and democracy and migration. While working on our own ideas and presentations I have learned all about the migration flow in modern days, policies and international laws that exist and apply to migration and the moral implications and (mostly devastating) effects human migration can have,” she said.
“However, most of all I have learned from my fellow classmates. It has been extremely fascinating to learn about issues related to migration that people from a complete different part of the world have to address. I believe I have gained a better understanding on immigration in the U.S. Also, I have obtained lots of new insights from my classmates from my own side of the world. At UCG the diversity of nationalities and cultures is large, and I have loved learning about migration issues and the ideas on migration from places all around Europe - and some places outside,” she added.
According to Fette, the Global Classroom is expected to be offered again in 2020. The class is limited to 16 students, 8 from Barrett and 8 from UCG.